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J Trauma Dissociation. 2014;15(2):153-68. doi: 10.1080/15299732.2014.867571.

Potentially perilous pedagogies: teaching trauma is not the same as trauma-informed teaching.

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  • 1a School of Social Work , University at Buffalo , Buffalo , New York , USA.


This article explores why and how trauma theory and research are currently used in higher education in nonclinical courses such as literature, women's studies, film, education, anthropology, cultural studies, composition, and creative writing. In these contexts, traumatic material is presented not only indirectly in the form of texts and films that depict traumatic events but also directly in the form of what is most commonly referred to in nonclinical disciplines as trauma studies, cultural trauma studies, and critical trauma studies. Within these areas of study, some instructors promote potentially risky pedagogical practices involving trauma exposure or disclosure despite indications that these may be having deleterious effects. After examining the published rationales for such methods, we argue that given the high rates of trauma histories (66%-85%), posttraumatic stress disorder (9%-12%), and other past event-related distress among college students, student risk of retraumatization and secondary traumatization should be decreased rather than increased. To this end, we propose that a trauma-informed approach to pedagogy-one that recognizes these risks and prioritizes student emotional safety in learning-is essential, particularly in classes in which trauma theories or traumatic experiences are taught or disclosed.

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